The Holy Spirit Empowers Believers with Great Power and Great Grace to Die to Self and Live as One Body with the Two-Fold Purpose of Demonstrating the Greatness of Jesus and Testifying to the Everlasting Reign and Lordship of the Resurrected Christ.
My name is Jeff Sparks, I am the Director of Engagement at our Wornall Campus, and part of that Groups Team and Church Staff that are currently hard at work building the infrastructure for the new groups that will launch this Fall.
As you can see from this video, Colonial’s new Groups Initiative is coming!
You may have heard that a new Groups format is coming this Fall, and I hope that today’s humorous video begins to whet your appetite and build your anticipation for what will be coming soon. I can speak for our Pastors, Elders, and Colonial staff when I say for all of us that WE CANNOT WAIT TO SHOW YOU what we’ve been up to!
Colonial will offer:
So there’s an immense amount of activity, tasks, and deadlines GOING ON BEHIND THE SCENES . . . it may seem a bit Calm to you, but hang on . . .
And to make a very OBVIOUS segue, the text for the sermon today finds the Christians in Acts ALSO in a season of CALM. Our text is from ACTS 4:32-37, and it’s an interlude—a space of quiet between dramatic moments. As is our practice at Colonial, let us stand and read our text together.
“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” AMEN
(YOU MAY BE SEATED)
Let us pray.
“Once again our Father God, through the strength and power of the Holy Spirit, we humble our hearts before You. Because we know that by our very nature we do not receive the things of the Spirit . . . they are foolishness to us. It is always AND only, a result of Your grace redeeming us that our eyes will be opened to understand the truth of Your Word. And yet, we recognize how quick we are to doubt and how slow we are to believe what was spoken so long ago about the Church. We pray that in these moments of study You will stir our hearts, fuel our minds, and channel our wills into the pathway of obedience. For we pray in Jesus name and for His sake. Amen.”
I mentioned a moment ago that, in our journey through Acts, we come now to a picture of peace and calm, an interlude, or a quiet intermission lodged between two points of dramatic conflict.
ONE conflict has just been resolved: The great power of the Holy Spirit working through the Apostle Peter in the healing of the crippled man and how Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin to be interrogated and commanded to stop preaching about the Resurrection of Jesus. Which they boldly defied!
Right after our passage, beginning with Chapter 5, we will witness Sin entering the Church for the first time, and the tragic end to Ananias and Sapphira.
But it is in the calm space between these two points of conflict where we locate our passage today. CONFLICT—A SPAN OF CALM—CONFLICT Again.
Many years ago while attending seminary in St. Louis, I had an opportunity to earn a few extra bucks and do a pulpit supply. Pastors need vacations too, (or so the rumor goes), and so local pastors would post notices for pulpit supply on the seminary job board. It was summer, and I picked up one of those notices and called the pastor. I learned that he had a dual parish, that is to say he was a pastor of two churches 40 miles apart, in Central Illinois. This was my first sermon outside of the classroom, and when I drove out into the country to the first church and when it was time to preach I stepped into the pulpit, I looked out all the people and I froze! You hear people say all the time that, worse than the fear of SNAKES or SPIDERS or HEIGHTS, worse than all of that is the fear of public speaking. There I stood! My knees were shaking, my voice was rattling, and only by God’s Grace did I make it through the sermon. CONFLICT! I hopped in my car and began the 40 mile drive through the cornfields and country to the next church.
And you know, as anxious as I had felt standing up there in front of all of those people at the first church, that long 40-mile drive on a Sunday morning had a therapeutic effect. It was so peaceful and relaxing that the stress seemed to melt away. Given what I had just endured, it was probably the sweetest 40 miles I have ever driven.
By the time I had made it to the second church, my nerves had settled and I was at ease. In fact, I even felt pretty good. I shook hands with the elder assigned to guide me to where I needed to be and when it was time for me to preach, I stepped into the pulpit and began to preach. The fear of public speaking seemed to have gone away. In fact, Things were even going pretty good . . . UNTIL I reached the midway point of the sermon, I turned the page and . . . TO MY HORROR . . . The rest of the sermon was missing! Through some error, I had left the rest of my sermon behind at the first church! Beads of sweat suddenly appeared on my forehead and, I kid you not, I ended the sermon, right there, on the spot, and said, “Thank You. AMEN.”
(When the service was over, I made a beeline to the front door AND the elder stopped me. I tried to apologize, but he LOOKED AT HIS WATCH and chuckled. He said, “Son, we haven’t made it out of church this early in years . . . you’re welcome to come back anytime!”)
That’s Life, though, for us and for these Christians in Acts: Stress and conflict is here [locate]; then greater stress and conflict here [locate], separated by spans of calm.
And this is precisely what makes our passage in Luke so unique; Luke is slowing down the narrative, on purpose, He’s zooming in, narrowing the field of view, so we can take a closer look at this picture.
And this is not only a KEY to understanding ACTS, but a KEY to understanding all of Scripture. Anywhere in Scripture when the narrative slows, it’s our cue to sit up and pay attention. In Genesis 1-11, the narrative spans hundreds of years, but when we come to God’s Covenant with Abraham in Genesis Chapter 12, God’s Covenant with Abraham, the narrative slows to a crawl. And rightly so, as the Abrahamic Covenant is the most important covenant of the Old Testament, finding its fulfillment in Christ and the Advent of His Church.
And that’s what Luke is doing; he is slowing his narrative to a crawl and it’s our cue to sit up and pay attention.
Why does does Luke want us to pay attention here?
I believe the answer is staring at us in the text: this IS a picture of the UNITY we are to experience and enjoy as the Church.
But “[Therein] lies the Rub!” If this is a picture of TRUE BELIEVERS in CHRIST-LIKE Unity, “Why doesn’t my life look like this?” That can be a very uncomfortable question! And if you do wonder about this, you’re in good company; has made Christians feel uncomfortable for 2,000 years!
But I think there is also great comfort here, far more comfort than uncomfort. And more than any other reason, I believe Luke is slowing the narrative so we will look at—and be inspired by—this beautiful picture of the Unity of the Church.
There are four things that stand out:
In Acts 4:32 we read, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.”
Remember back Acts 2. The believers could fit into the upper room, but on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended and Peter preached his sermon at 9:00 a.m., within the hour 3,000 believers were added to the church. But, do you remember what Peter Preached that morning?
After using Scripture to demonstrate that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, he said, 2:36 “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
This was the sermon Peter and the Apostles continued to Preach as we see in our text, v.33 “And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.”
Peter put the guilt of killing Jesus, the Messiah, squarely on their shoulders. For these first Christians in Jerusalem, life s they knew it had come to an end: they had killed their long awaited Messiah.
No, they didn’t drive in the nails into the hands and feet of Jesus, but their rejection of Jesus “cut them ALL to the heart” as they became aware of the guilt of their sin.
It is no different for us today. Just like these first Christians, we come from every social and economic background, UNIFIED ALREADY in our SIN, but when the Holy Spirit makes us aware of the guilt of our sin, we are undone! Life as we know it comes to an end and then we cry out in anguish—with those believers in ACTS 2:37, “… Brothers, what shall we do?”
The Gospel is administered. “38 And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”
Just like the early Christian, the Holy Spirit convicts of our sin, declares our forgiveness in Christ, and then something so profound happens, that—to this day—we are amazed by it—we begin die:
Die to Self,
Die to the WORLD, and
Die to the Wisdom of this World.
The new life that arises out of that, is a life devoted to demonstrating the Greatness of Jesus and to reveal Him as worthy of praise and adoration.
And there is the tension in Act 4:
When you and I look at the lives of these early believers and then to our own life and that something is out of balance, we can be sure that the problem is this: we have permitted the Self, the World, and the Wisdom of this World to creep back into our lives.
Again, we’re not alone. John Calvin said this is a constant battle for Christians because “our hearts are Idol-making factories.”
And when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg door—launching the Reformation—the #1 item on the list was repentance: “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, says “Repent ye,” he means that the entire life of the believer should be one of repentance.”
We are unified in our dying—in who we once were.
These early believers were, also, unified in their life—in their being—they knew exactly who they were, “Whose They Were.”
We read in vv. 34-35, “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of land or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”
IF there’s a part of this narrative where we feel most out of unity with these early believers, it is probably here.
These two verses have received much abuse and there are many examples of people taking these verses out of context and using them to beat someone or some group over the head.
That’s The wrong way to read these two verses simply because this is NOT what LUKE is showing us. He is not writing, secretly hoping that we’ll infer some rules to follow when helping the poor, or to be a playbook for the next Stewardship Campaign!
No, it is greater than that! Here, in Jerusalem, these believers are being who they are already in Jesus! It’s in the being, it’s in their DNA; their lives—once dead—are made alive through the power of the HOLY SPIRIT bringing them to Salvation in Jesus. WHAT YOU ARE SEEING THESE EARLY BELIEVERS DO—IS NOTHING COMPARED TO WHO THEY ARE.
One of the most enjoyable singing services we have at WORNALL is that Sunday when we have the “HYMN SING”. And when someone calls out a hymn number—while everyone is busy finding the hymn—our Worship Director, Jeff Martin, asks that person to share with everyone why that hymn is meaningful to them. Almost always, the person relates a story. Like, “this was my father’s favorite hymn and we sang it at his funeral” or “when I was child, my mother always played that for me at the piano.” It is the greatest argument for church unity ever printed.
What they DO, is the natural outflow of WHO THEY ARE, Whose they are, and they do it lovingly. AND WHAT WE DO, is going to be the natural outflow of WHO WE ARE. JAMES, the brother of JESUS, was a lifelong resident of Jerusalem. Most likely JAMES is in this CROWD, and he would later write, (James 2:8), “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, [which is] ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.”
THESE BELIEVERS began with a UNITY IN DEATH, (Death to SELF, Death to the WORLD, and DEATH TO THE WISDOM OF THE WORLD).
THESE BELIEVERS continued the UNITY OF NEW LIFE, totally and completely devoted to their MASTER, LORD and SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST.
and he is allowing us to view a glimpse of the Church of Jesus Christ in perfect Unity and Peace. You and I both know that storms are coming for this New Testament Church, and as Pastor Jim leads us through Acts, we will see that those storms will keep coming, and they will continue to increase in size and magnitude.
But let’s ask, “Why does Luke take time a to give the Church a picture of this perfect Unity and Peace?” I believe it is because when Satan attacks the church and attacks Believers in the Church, he strikes at our UNITY IN CHRIST. BUT we have a promise on our side from Jesus, and we read it in Matthew 16:18, when Jesus says, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build MY church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” When a fortress needs to be protected, it is the gates that are the most vulnerable as they allow access into the fortress; for this reason, it is the gates that are most heavily fortified. Notice that Jesus is using battle language, rightly so, and He is claiming an offensive, not defensive, position for HIS CHURCH.
HERE, RIGHT HERE, is the CHURCH in its OFFENSIVE POSITION. Verse 32, in the ESV reads, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” The number of believers had grown so much that LUKE—who was doing meticulous historical research remember—could no long count the number of Christians . . . the number of Christians had moved beyond counting, to an “overfullness” which is what the Greek Word here indicates. AND THIS IS the CHURCH on the OFFENSIVE against those gates of hell, it is the HOLY SPIRIT at work calling and saving ALL people whom God has called.
?? BUT DOES THIS LAST?
Does this PEACE AND UNITY LAST?
The answer is YES . . . and NO.
That the Church exists at all today is a miracle,
So we know this is the Holy Spirit at work, but what about these Christians? Is there something special about THIS group that is different than you, and me, and our Church today? The to that question “maybe”. What is unique about this group of earliest believers
That’s a fair question. How are these Christians, arriving at a point and practicing this sort of Radical Unity?
Be part of this . . . OLD GOSPEL
Many have lamented . . .
So how do we experience this unity and peace? HS, of course.
But here’s the rub . . . in this 40-miles of calm among the earliest Christian church, this is one of the most difficult passages to understand. Yet, this text has been one of the most difficult to preach.
Consider the KC Royals in 2014; by skill and grit they shocked everyone, maybe even themselves, and made it to the World Series—and LOST! What was even more remarkable is that the loss cemented the team and they moved into the 2015 season “Of ONE HEART and ONE SOUL”. And how many of us were with them on that journey, too!
All of them, as ONE BODY, ONE ORGANISM, the CHURCH. Jesus says in Matthew 8:20, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” What earthly possessions they had re not greater than their master.